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THE OVERUSE OF AND

June 3, 2014

One of my writing foibles is that I like to tie sentences together by using the word and. Though technically there’s nothing wrong with that, when it comes to good prose, and isn’t such a great choice.

AN OVERUSED CONJUNCTION

We tend to find and to be the easy way out. When we have two sentences, two thoughts and we don’t want to break them down, we string them together with an and. As I’m writing, I do that all the time. That can make for sentences that come close to breaking the arbitrary 25 word sentence rule. Ever heard that one? I might have mentioned that a long time ago in a very early post called Write To A Sixth Grade Level.

You story should be a pleasure to read, not tedious work. Unless you’re writing a college text, the whole point of writing fiction is to entertain your reader. The simpler way you get from point A to B, the better.

If your sentences are too long, the reader tends to lose focus and their mind drifts. The powers-that-be ran all kinds of tests and determined that the average person’s mind tends to drift when the sentences get over 25 words, especially when they’re reading for pleasure. Of course, that rule is broken all the time including by me, but there are some sentences that are just too long! I’ll bet you find an and or two at a great place to break things down.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF USING AND TOO MUCH

And is often used in lists, which is another subject, but putting that aside, in our context, it ties two thoughts together, two sentences that could stand on their own. When you see a sentence with an and in the middle, and it’s not part of a list, that’s a red flag.

Meleena leaned over and took a sip of water from the creek and then wiped the blood off her sword.

I’m keeping things simple for illustration porpoises…

Which and would you think is the one to cut? Would you cut either?

Let’s look at that sentence re-written the way I would do it for better and more immediate prose.

Meleena leaned over and took a sip of water from the creek. She wiped the blood off her sword.

I eliminated and then and made it more rhythmic and urgent.

It didn’t take her too long to see that going down that path would be more dangerous, and listening to Grel wasn’t the best way, but if she were to go the other way and run across problems, and if the old wizard threw them back in her face, would she be able to live that down and still be able to face her friends?

Whew, is that a mouthful! 65 words. Enough to make my eyes glaze over. Maybe you have a higher tolerance than I do, but geez.

There are several places ripe for breaking this massive mouthful into manageable thoughts.

One train of thought is to try reading that mouthful. A good place to break for a period is where you’d pause for a breath.

It didn’t take her long to see that going down that path would be more dangerous, and listening to Grel wasn’t the best way, but if she were to go the other way and run across problems, and if the old wizard threw them back in her face, would she be able to live that down and still be able to face her friends?

Notice I threw another conjunction in there, a but. As many of you know, I have a pet peeve about that word also, but not usually when it’s used within sentences, only when it starts a sentence. However, in this case it’s another conjunction.

In some of those cases, you may be wondering why I picked those spots or how they could be turned into complete sentences. Also, how could it be made to not sound choppy? Let’s see.

It didn’t take her long to see that going down that path would be more dangerous. Listening to Grel wasn’t the best way. If she were to go the other way and run across problems, would the old wizard throw them back in her face? Would she be able to live that down and still be able to face her friends?

See? Not so bad.

THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES (EXCEPT MAYBE THE VODKA)

The point is to make your story as user friendly as possible. That means use the best grammar and prose as you can. The story shouldn’t be burden but a pleasure. There are countless ways to get your point across. Readers are counting on you to put out the effort to do it correctly. If you don’t, eventually the smart ones will figure you out.

Happy writing!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ryan permalink
    November 3, 2016 12:55 am

    Thank you! I’m participating in NaNoWriMo and desperately needed this. It was such a help.

    • November 5, 2016 6:18 am

      Ryan,

      Thanks so much for the kind comments! All the best at the NaNoWriMo!

      Fred

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